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The Reading Quiz Shake-up

Assignments of Note

The Reading Quiz Shake-up

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An interesting variety of different types of quiz questions and formats are used in two philosophy courses with the goal of encouraging students to come to class on time, prepared, and ready for discussion.

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Editor's note: The following article is part of an ongoing resource collection called Assignments of Note, in which we showcase innovative assignments featured in scholarly articles.

The assignment

Tropman, E., (2014). In defense of reading quizzes. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 26(1), 140–146. Retrieved from http://www.isetl.org/ijtlhe/pdf/IJTLHE1714.pdf [open access]

Brief description

An interesting variety of different types of quiz questions and formats are used in two philosophy courses with the goal of encouraging students to come to class on time, prepared, and ready for discussion.

Problems the assignment addresses

  • Students' not coming to class or arriving late or both,
  • Students' coming to class unprepared—a serious problem in courses like philosophy, where discussion falters and is less meaningful if students haven’t done the reading
  • Exam anxiety—students find exam experiences stressful. Sometimes their anxiety prevents them from demonstrating what they have learned.
  • Daily quizzes all formatted the same way quickly become routine. Students know what to expect and that encourages them to read for potential quiz questions and nothing else.

Learning skills the assignment promotes

  • Regular reading quizzes mean more regular reading outside class and that enhances college-level reading skills.
  • The quizzes expose students to a variety of different kinds of exam questions, useful in the current course as well as other courses. Practice with different kinds of quizzes reduces exam anxiety.
  • The teacher’s feedback on the quizzes offers individual students input on reading and thinking skills.

Details and logistics

The different kind of quiz structures and questions used in this assignment include: one or two open-ended questions some of which can be answered in a few words, others requiring several sentences; questions that ask for critical reflection and reaction to the reading; quizzes that ask students to summarize the main point in an assigned reading; quizzes that are completed with a partner or in a group; open-book quizzes; and a few take-home quizzes.

To help students get a feel for what the quizzes entail and to reduce anxiety about them, the first quizzes are not graded or collected. Typically quiz scores improve as students become familiar with the questions types and quiz structures.

Students have the reading quizzes regularly but not every class. On those days there is a quiz, it’s given right at the start of class and is used to kick off that day’s session.


Quizzes count for 20 percent in the introductory course and 15 percent in the sophomore-level course. There are no make-up quizzes, but the two lowest quiz scores are dropped.

After collecting the quizzes, the teacher facilitates a discussion of the questions and answers thereby providing students with immediate feedback. The discussion may be brief or it may be what structures the discussion of content that day.

Evidence of the assignment’s effectiveness

Responses on survey questions indicate an overall positive response to this quiz assignment with a score of 4.2 (SD 0.7) out of 5 in the introductory course and 4.0 (SD 0.) out of 5 in the sophomore course. As for the level of encouragement provided by the quiz to do the reading, those in the introductory courses rated the level at 4.6 (SD 0.6) and 4.3 (SD 1.0) respectively in the two courses.

Resources included in the article

In addition to describing how the quizzes are used in these two courses, the author makes a strong case for the use of reading quizzes. She documents their benefits and answers the various objections typically raised against their use.

An update from the author (8/7/2018)

This assignment has become such an integral part of my teaching that I use the quizzes in all of my classes, even graduate seminars.

A common concern about giving quizzes on the reading is that it asks too much of students. Students are not experts. How can we expect them to understand the reading before it’s discussed in class? Yet, in my experience, students rise to the occasion. They don’t find the readings as inaccessible as we and they think they will. The flexibility of the quiz format also helps. If the reading is difficult, I ask more reflective quiz questions, assign an open-book group quiz, or skip a quiz that day. What’s important is that I have set the expectation that students should do the reading carefully and be ready to engage with it in class.

I continue to experiment with different kinds of questions. Lately I have been using questions that ask students to identify an author’s point of view. This is especially important in philosophy, where authors consider multiple sides of an issue. I might ask: “In today’s reading, did the author ultimately endorse or reject utilitarianism (or whatever the topic of the paper was) or not take a stand on the issue?” Now I sometimes use quizzes in ways not connected to reading. For instance, I have made a visit to my office or participation in a class debate count as a quiz score.